Re: Cohousing that integrates a limited number of adult persons with disabilities
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 15 Jan 2016 08:19:53 -0800 (PST)
I know this is a sensitive topic and no one may respond at all. How many people 
who need extra support can a community accommodate without becoming dominantly 
a care community? 

After 15 years of pretty normal life stresses I think this is a serious 
question. I used to wonder if everyone in cohousing had problems and that’s why 
they moved in. But then I realized that these are all common problems but we 
usually don’t know about them. In cohousing we know. 

In 15 years, we have had:

pregnancies (not all easy)
births (not all easy)
long periods of cancer treatments, incapacity, and death
sudden deaths
household conflicts that affected others 
teens with emotional and behavior problems
teens chronically truant
stress from unemployment in more than one household
descents into infirmity and senility
absence to deal with family issues elsewhere
absence to find employment elsewhere
accidents or illnesses dangerous to residents with particular vulnerabilities
children without enough care at home
special attention to all facilities and activities so they are accessible

I’ve worded these as multiples so I’m not pointing a finger at one person but 
almost all of these were multiples. Some of the most difficult were multiples — 
cancer, for example. 

Nine months of a difficult pregnancy next door is nine months of a difficult 
pregnancy in my unit too. And I have 43 units “next door.” People being 
unemployed, particularly with children, makes me particularly anxious. We are a 
community with many people working for non-profit organizations. During the big 
recession many were out of work, some several times. Others took income 
reductions of 10%. Some were repeatedly unemployed.

There are many examples of care communities designed for foster parents, etc., 
so this can certainly be done. But when the percentage of households rises 
above a certain level, it isn’t “normal.” Normal is time-consuming enough.

I had a friend whose husband died of Alzheimer’s. She benefitted from a support 
group and day care, but when neighbors also had spouses with Alzheimer’s, they 
either avoided each other or didn't discuss it. Otherwise they would have been 
overwhelmed. They would have had Alzheimer’s 24/7 themselves.

Welcoming diversity means welcoming diversity. I’m not speaking against 
focussed communities but the reality is that cohousing might be different from 
other solutions, but any focus will reduce diversity — not increase it. And 
will need specialized support available, not just neighbors. One child who 
needs special supervision, can be supported by neighbors. But can five? Or even 

We need to be careful what we promise because often unwittingly, we are already 
taking on responsibilities when we choose cohousing. That’s what makes a 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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